Deftones White Pony is certainly one of my favorite albums... from what Deftones has to offer, to what music has to offer.
Passenger is arguably the best track, with our beloved Maynard James Keenan featured in the hook. Somehow, this guy from REVOLVER got candid answers from Maynard, on what he remembers and the parts he played.
By Steve Appleford
Maynard James Keenan likes to keep busy. The Tool singer is a collaborator by nature, and a creative force both onstage and behind the scenes. And in 1999, he had his hands full, recording with a new band, A Perfect Circle, and taking them to the very first Coachella, where he was also headlining that same year with Tool.
Keenan also found time to hang around with Deftones singer Chino Moreno, just as that band was preparing to record what would become their landmark third album, White Pony. As Moreno remembers it, there was talk of MJK being executive producer on that Grammy-winning, Platinum-selling recording.
That didn't quite happen, but Keenan did spend some days at the band's rehearsal studio in Los Angeles during the writing sessions, brought champagne and percussion instruments, generally hung out and weighed in with ideas and feedback. They were good company: Moreno, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, bassist Chi Cheng, drummer Abe Cunningham and turntablist-keyboardist Frank Delgado.
When Deftones and producer Terry Date returned to L.A. in early 2000 for mixing and final vocals, he stepped behind the mic for a wailing duet with Moreno on the dramatic track "Passenger."
"Great album. One of their best, in my opinion," Keenan says now. "I honestly had nothing to do with it other than a mental break and temporary change of perspective."
With White Pony turned 20 in this year — and with a new reissue including a remix-album companion piece, Black Stallion, on the way — we reached out to Keenan about his part of the making of the watershed LP. What follows is our email exchange with the singer.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT SPENDING TIME WITH DEFTONES DURING THE MAKING OF WHITE PONY?
MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN What I remember most about spending time with the Deftones on this album was the confused look on their faces when I mapped out a few things I wanted to try.
CHINO SAYS YOU HAD BEEN TALKING TO THEM AT THE TIME ABOUT MAYBE BEING AN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF THE ALBUM.
I honestly don't remember discussing taking on the role of "executive producer," but maybe [it] happened. It's been a bit.
ABE CUNNINGHAM REMEMBERS YOU COMING TO THEIR REHEARSAL SPACE IN L.A. WITH CHAMPAGNE AND TIBETAN SINGING BOWLS. WHAT DID THOSE INGREDIENTS BRING TO THE WRITING SESSIONS?
I may have received bad or exaggerated intel at the time, but I was told the guys were having a bit of writer's block or some turmoil within the band. Who knows. They certainly weren't going to discuss that with me, an almost total stranger. And they are some very strong-willed gents. Dare I say stubborn. Wonderful people. But stubborn.
Up to that point, they seemed to have been able to navigate through their differences in ideas and approaches. Great first efforts. The evidence is all there. I felt like they just needed a bit of new perspective. So I showed up with Tibetan Singing Bowls, some percussion instruments, champagne, and asked them permission to do some experiments.
I had them each switch instruments, play on the bowls, take one loop and try some improvisation. Things of that nature. The look on their faces was priceless. I might as well have been wearing hippy beads and bunny ears. I could just feel Stephen thinking, "What kind of acid trip crap is this?"
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CONTRIBUTION DURING THOSE WRITING SESSIONS? WHAT WAS THE ATMOSPHERE LIKE?
I stuck around long enough for them to start itching to not have me around. They were able to keep up the courtesy to a point, but eventually it was time for me to let them be. The result of my interruption was for them to unconsciously remember or feel what connected them in the first place.
By the time I saw them again, they had opened their own creative floodgates. I had no idea whether my approach would work or not and no idea if that idea would ever work again, but in this instance it did. Great album. One of their best, in my opinion. I honestly had nothing to do with it other than a mental break and temporary change of perspective.
WHEN YOU CAME IN FOR THE RECORDING OF "PASSENGER," HOW WAS THAT DIFFERENT FROM YOUR TIME WITH DEFTONES MONTHS EARLIER? DID YOU WRITE NEW LYRICS THERE?
I don't recall whether I showed up with completed lyrics or not. Like I said, it's been awhile. But this visit I was able to assume the role that I've become accustomed to. Most pieces in place, [now] navigate the puzzle in front of you. Love that track.